Plein air painting using a two-wheeled bike
This, as a means of transportation, seems like a good idea, but is it practical? I was about to find out with my first test run including everything I thought I would need. Standing there at the edge of my driveway, baskets full of stuff, with my tripod and small three-legged chair strapped on behind the back seat, I wondered about my sanity for even trying this type of excursion. I asked my wife to take a picture of me before I headed out on these country roads.
Finally, I mounted the bike hesitantly and turned left out of my driveway and headed towards Kiousville, then turned right on old Kiousville-Palestine Road, and I officially felt I was on my way to a new adventure. Down a small grade, then switched gears to go up a small grade and then the front derailleur lost the chain. I was free-wheeling it and lost my balance, and of course, I went down.
I don’t know if all the stuff I had packed on the bike saved me but I didn’t hit the ground as hard as I should have. I walked the bike over to the safety of a driveway where I was able to get the chain back on the bike. No, I’m not mechanically oriented, so bike and car repairs have not been part of my 68 years. Now stupidity, that’s where my expertise lies.
I managed to pedal up the little grade, turned right again onto Robison Road and it was a downhill exercise. I used the brakes quite a bit so it wasn’t like the downhill bike experience I enjoyed as a kid. Cautious was the watchword and I was that as I descended the hill to the bridge that crosses over Deer Creek. After crossing the bridge the road runs parallel to the creek for about 100 yards.
A couple of weeks ago this road side was filled with purple and white flowers but now they were replaced by bouquets of white flowers that looked like Queen Ann’s Lace but much taller. A few bright blue Chicory flowers were there also but very few. I stopped and took more than a few pictures with my small point and shoot digital camera.
Soon I was back on the bike heading down the road toward state Route 56. A farm on my left almost always has horses in the pasture and this day was no exception. I stopped again and started to take pictures. They ran back away from me and the small 5x zoom wasn’t able to capture them. Even at that, I got a few decent pictures, then I turned around the bike, lost my balance and down I went again. No chain to blame for this fall.
As they say, “I did this one all by myself.” Picking myself up, checking the bike, we both seemed okay but I knew it was time for me to start back home. Again, I headed for the Deer Creek bridge. That’s when the farm machinery and trucks seemed to come all at once. They were courteous and gave me lots of room. Of course, my erratic motions on the bike might have had something to do with that.
By the time I made it back to my driveway I was shaking and very tired. Half of it was being out of shape, the other half was nerves. I put the bike up with everything I had taken with me still on it.
The next morning, I brought the bike out with all the painting stuff and set up to paint using only what was on the bike. It’s a good idea to do a dry run of your painting at home. That way, if you’re missing something, it’s not a disaster but part of your learning experience.
Every year for at least the last seven or eight years, I have done a plein air dry run of supplies and equipment to make sure I had everything I needed, and every year, it has paid off. With carrying everything with you on a bike, it’s even more important.
This year I will make a check list and use it before every ride: A simple thing like a wide brim hat to keep the sun off your head instead of trying to make do with a bike helmet; a plastic tarp to put your things on; and one of the most important items is bug repellent. Bugs can turn a good painting session into a miserable experience. These items are quite honestly easy to forget. As I get older, my “forgettery” is becoming very good, so a list is needed but only if I don’t forget to use it every time.
Riding on roads shared by cars, trucks and farm equipment can be hazardous and you have to be aware of everything that’s around you. I have found that my mirror attached to the handlebars is inadequate. Even the mirror attached to my glasses doesn’t really work. I saw a mirror that is supposed to be vibration free. It is two-and-a-half times bigger than the one on my glasses; it attaches to the helmet. It costs around $40, but when you think it could save your life, it doesn’t seem all that bad.
There is an inexpensive alternative we in the London area have available to us: that is the bike trail. It is safer than the roads and streets and the scenery is simply beautiful. As an artist, it’s not only safer than the roadways but it is a great place to pull off and take pictures of nature or even stay awhile and paint.
The bike trail gets my highest recommendation for a recreational and natural experience if you take the time to see what is along the way between point A and point B. Maybe you’ll realize it’s the trip that offers the most creative potential rather than the destination. If you don’t arrive at point B maybe it’s because you found something uniquely beautiful on the way.
A bike, even loaded with a bunch of creative stuff, is still much easier than walking and a lot less costly than driving. So you might think of taking a creative vacation at home and seeing all the beauty and wonder just a few feet or miles from your own front door.
Yes, I am trying to convince myself that my body isn’t hurting from those two falls. I need help getting the gears working properly. Any volunteers or advice would be appreciated. Note: I will trade painting for mechanical expertise.
Harry Croghan is an artist, photographer, writer and teacher. You can send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (740) 852-4906.